Tim Perry, who filled the city's potholes for the last 32 years, has left the biggest hole yet for the city to fill. Perry, 54, the director of the Department of Public Works, announced his retirement last week, effective July 26.
Over the next two weeks, city officials should suck up as much knowledge, integrity, and creativity as they can from their outgoing, larger-than-life public works director.
“He could stretch a dollar further than anyone,” Mayor Steve Presley told the Herald-Press. “Throughout his long career, he has saved the city millions of dollars with his creative and innovative ability to solve problems affecting our street, water, and sewer systems.”
City Manager Leslie Cloer said the city might not fill Perry's position this year. Cloer will quickly learn Perry is irreplaceable, as singular as his trademark suspenders or the vintage 1980s rolodex on his desk.
Starting as a temporary maintenance worker in 1987, Perry toiled at nearly every job in his department, including equipment operator, truck driver, and street foreman.
By the time he became a department head in 2016, Perry had cemented his reputation as the ideal boss – the first to credit his staff and shoulder the blame.
Even when he made more than $93,000 a year as the director of the Department of Public Works, Perry remained a blue-collar guy. He hated wearing suits. On the rare occasion he had to wear one, he looked positively miserable.
The only suit Perry enjoyed was the Santa Claus suit he donned every year for almost three decades in the city's Christmas of Lights Parade. “I do it for the joy of the kids,” he told the Herald Press two years ago.
Perry led by example, without artifice. He was honest and straightforward with the media, and everyone else. He never whined about a story, even if it didn't show the city in a positive light. He was bigger than that.
Without a college degree, Perry was easily one of the smartest and most creative people in city government. To the city's detriment, he hasn't always received the respect he deserved from some members of city council.
Before former City Manager Michael Hornes left this year, the editor of the Herald-Press asked him who on his staff could do the city manager's job, and do it well. “Tim Perry” were the first words out of his mouth.
Perry created a work environment that encouraged his employees to think outside-the-box.
Last year, Perry's crew installed an impeller system at the wastewater treatment plant that has saved the city at least $3,000 a week in maintenance costs.
In another smart move, public works this year proposed using a so-called P2 emulsion that's superior to traditional asphalt and cheaper. So far, however, city council members have balked at the new technology.
Approving it would best serve a city struggling with bumpy and battered streets and roads. It also would make a fitting tribute to an irreplaceable public servant.
City government will change forever on July 26. Tim Perry has left the building.